Have you found it easy or difficult to remain friends with (Christian Science) people since you left the church?
This is a question posed to me by a reader, who suggested that I should address the topic of what happens to relationships with Christian Scientists when one leaves Christian Science. I’ll widen my focus to include some observations on familial relationships as well as friendships. Rather than just write only about my own experience, I figured the best way to offer up a good look at this topic would be to ask a group of former Christian Scientists. So, I posed this question to one of the on-line groups I’m in.
Typical and atypical experiences
Going into this, I thought my own experience with my relations with Christian Scientists was atypical, and in some ways it is. But, in other ways it isn’t. Unlike many other ex-Christian Scientists I’ve gotten to know, I do not have any family members still in Christian Science. While my parents were second-generation in Christian Science, they were the only ones in our family of their generation to stay in Christian Science for their entire lives, although one aunt and one uncle of mine on each side of the family did stay in Christian Science long enough to expose some of my cousins to it, and consequently a few of my cousins nominally grew up in Christian Science for a time, but all left it as soon as they were out of Sunday School, or left well before then when their own parents left Christian Science. Most of my family members are indifferent towards Christian Science, while some are hostile. My personal experiences regarding the topic of this post, therefore, relate only to friendships with Christian Scientists. My family experiences have largely been atypical.
“They (the Christian Scientists) don’t see or hear the real me. I filter.”
This is a thread I see running through many relationships that former Christian Scientists (including myself) have with our friends, acquaintances, and family members who remain in the faith. We tend to simply avoid talking about it (Christian Science). It continues a reverse of the duality that many of us lived when we were in Christian Science. When I was in Christian Science, I rarely discussed it with anyone outside of the faith. Now, on the rare occasions when I am among Christian Scientists, I generally avoid the topic of Christian Science–unless I’m specifically asked. Most of us avoid talking about Christian Science, religion, or medical issues with those who are still in Christian Science. We all filter. We all conceal a part of who we are now.
“I try to be the friend I needed when I was dealing with it all.”
For some of us, with some relationships we have with certain individuals who remain in Christian Science to some degree, the relationship has evolved. I’ve had one or two friends from my days deep in Christian Science, who have engaged me in conversation about my experience. It comes, I think, from a place with them where they are ‘on the fence’, and wondering why I left, and what my experience has been like with medical treatment. A couple of friends were dealing with health concerns, and just needing some reassurance or direction. Other ex-Christian Scientists have told me of similar interactions. One friend had been dealing with grief over the loss of a close family member and was just looking for a way to grieve, as they were finding little comfort in Christian Science or among Christian Scientists.
“I found it very difficult to maintain friendships with CS (Christian Science) folks, because it seemed like they wanted nothing to do with me; like I had never existed.”
By far, the most typical experience we’ve all had is that many of our Christian Scientist friends (and family in some cases) have dropped away, especially when they’ve found their efforts to bring us back into the faith to be in vain. I’ve been separated from many of my Christian Scientist friends by geography, so some relationships have naturally drifted away just from distance. However, there have been occasions, when I post things that are overtly anti-Christian Science, that I see my friends count on Facebook drop. When I’ve been able to figure out who dropped away, it has been friends I knew from class instruction/association days, or friends from my time at Principia or working at The Mother Church in Boston. Almost everyone in my on-line ex-Christian Scientists group who responded reported lost connections with Christian Scientist friends once they became open about having left Christian Science.
Going forward–making friends, losing friends
My experience, as I’ve gone forward and made new non-Christian Scientist friends as I built my post-Christian Science life, has definitely been typical in many ways (minus the issue of having family still in Christian Science). I largely do not seek out the company of Christian Scientists, I maintain friendships with Christian Scientists insofar as they choose to continue to interact with me, and I still have some of the old duality in my life that I had while I was in Christian Science insofar as I generally avoid the topic of Christian Science with my non-Christian Scientist friends. I’ve found this to be largely true of others who’ve left Christian Science. The main reason why most of us avoid the topic of Christian Science with our non-Christian Scientist friends is simple: there’s way too much explaining to do for them to ever understand what we’ve been through, and it’s honestly not worth the effort to explain the crazy. I’ve recently had some e-mail interaction with a reader who’s done some research on Christian Science who expressed frustration with this, who understood after I explained to him why many of us just wall-off our Christian Science past from those who were never in the faith and generally refuse to talk about it. For me, when I do discuss my Christian Science past and experiences, my friends usually give me a blank stare as if I’ve just grown two heads or something. They can’t believe it.
“My experience with current CS (Christian Scientist) friends is cordial but chilly. There’s a wariness–Christian Scientists seem to feel personally persecuted when folks make non-CS (Christian Science) choices.”
For those Christian Scientist friends who’ve disconnected with me, I’ve felt regret over some who’ve left. In some cases, these were people I went to college with, and shared many formative life-experiences with, and I mistakenly thought our friendship transcended a shared faith. I was wrong. However, most of us who’ve lost Christian Scientist friendships have come to a place of acceptance with the realization that some friendships were much more shallow than we realized.
“When I’ve tried to keep in touch, they ignore me.”
Even though most of us have accepted that some people will leave us as we leave Christian Science, it’s never easy. Sure, we’ll post those memes that boast about how we’re fine letting go of those who turned out to never really be our friends, deep down, it’s not easy to realize that some friendships weren’t what we thought they were. They were a false illusion, much the way Christian Science teaches us to view the very real material world around us. It’s a microcosm of our separation from Christian Science itself. Few of us found the initial leap away from Christian Science to be an easy one, especially those of us who stayed with it for a significant part of our lives.
Relationships with family who remain in Christian Science have been the ones most fraught with tension and emotional turmoil. I see it often in the on-line groups. You have a deep connection with people who almost become strangers because you no longer share the Christian Science connection. Those of us who’ve had to stand by while family members battle illness while refusing medical treatment that could readily alleviate their condition, have an especially hard emotional path. It tears you to pieces to watch someone you love suffer needlessly and in some cases die. You also can’t grieve with your Christian Scientist family members because in many cases, they nonchalantly go on as if nothing has ever happened. I’ve seen it tear some of my fellow ex-Christian Scientists to pieces. If you want to read a truly gripping first-hand account of what it’s like to be a non-Christian Scientist dealing with a Christian Scientist family member who is seriously ill and dying, read fathermothergod, My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse.
For me, and for many others, the overall experience of leaving Christian Science has been to bring a breath of honesty into our lives, and that includes our friendships. We’ve come to realize that some friendships were false–predicated as they were on a shared faith, rather than a genuine interpersonal connection, while others have proven to be more genuine. Most of us have found that the connections we have with the circle we keep close to us now are more open and honest. We don’t hide behind the false façade that Christian Science built up around us. We talk about our past if the topic comes up, if we’re up for it, but if we hold back, it’s rarely out of a sense of wanting to hide anything. We accept the world, and all of the people in it, as they are–whether they be good, bad, or something in-between.